Surprise! Hollywood Is Becoming Entertainment's New "It" Neighborhood
With Netflix and Viacom setting up shop in the former ghost town, offices, hotels and hangouts are multiplying as the crosstown pitch commute vanishes: "We can get done in two and a half hours what used to take us an entire day."
There's an eastward shift afoot in the industry. In January, Viacom moved eight of its cable channels into a brand-new, six-story Columbia Square office tower in Hollywood, leaving behind longtime digs in Santa Monica. The next month, Netflix said goodbye to Beverly Hills and hello to its own new office tower in Hollywood, the 14-story Icon. For producers in the San Fernando Valley, the moves have been a godsend. "Pitching used to mean a lot of time in your car traveling from Burbank to Santa Monica to Century City and Hollywood or any combination thereof," says Stuart Krasnow, executive vp creative at Burbank-based Telepictures, part of Warner Bros. Television. The other day, though, he recalls, "My vp and I went from Burbank to MTV in the new Viacom building in 12 minutes, then to Netflix, a four-minute drive, then back to Viacom for Comedy Central — and we even got to grab Sugarfish to go in the same building — then back to Burbank." Total time in the car for three pitches: 30 minutes. "All of a sudden we can get done in two and a half hours what used to take us an entire day. It doesn't get better than that," says Krasnow.
Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch, president of Burbank-based 44 Blue Productions (Wahlburgers, Hollywood Medium), says having Viacom and Netflix in Hollywood — along with the consolidation of NBCUniversal's cable channels in Universal City in early 2016 — "has been awesome. Those are three major buyers that are closer." When Viacom was in Santa Monica, "I wouldn't get home from a 3 p.m. pitch meeting until 8 o'clock at night."
Kent Alterman, president of Viacom's Comedy Central, says that pitches were less productive when the company was based west of the 405 because "the first 10 minutes were spent talking about how arduous it was to get to our offices. It feels now like we're in the heart of what we do." Netflix's and Viacom's new headquarters mark corporate Hollywood's biggest embrace in decades of the neighborhood where Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin filmed silents and where RKO, Columbia, NBC Radio, CBS and Warners once were based.
Today, filming on soundstages in Hollywood is at an all-time high, spurred by the 2015 tripling of production tax credits. Comedy Central shoots @midnight and The Jim Jefferies Show at Sunset Las Palmas Studios. BuzzFeed Motion Pictures took over 60,000 square feet at Siren Studios, while in 2016 Netflix signed a 10-year lease three blocks away at Sunset Bronson studios. As more producers and talent run the 101 among Hollywood, Universal City, Studio City and Burbank, the industry is seeing the formation of a new "It" power corridor.
The revitalization of Hollywood — long known for drug-dealing and empty storefronts — has been a long time in the making. The Hollywood & Highland complex opened in 2001, but it took former councilman and now L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti favoring zoning exemptions to allow for taller buildings in the area. The Icon buildings and Columbia Square (Rios Clementi Hale Studios were the master planners and architects), plus the six-story building that's been home to Technicolor on the Sunset Gower lot since 2008, represent the first office towers built in Hollywood since the mid-1980s. "Kilroy Realty, which developed Columbia Square, and Hudson Pacific, which owns the Icon, built these speculatively," says commercial real estate firm JLL's Carl Muhlstein.
A rash of new restaurants and hotels is springing up in response. The Dream (6417 Selma Ave.), Mama Shelter (6500 Selma Ave.) and the extended-stay Kelly Wearstler- and Rios Clementi Hale Studios-designed Hollywood Proper Residences at Columbia Square will be joined in coming months by the Kimpton Everly and Thompson Hollywood. Columbia Square has dining options right on campus: Sugarfish, Sweetgreen, Paley, Rubies & Diamonds coffee shop, and members-only work and social club NeueHouse. "It's just so easy to step out of the building. I love being in Hollywood," says Kevin Kay, president of Paramount Network. "My president of production and development Keith Cox and I just had lunch at Paley with Darren Star, who produces Younger for us." Adding to standbys Musso & Frank, Katsuya, Off-Vine, Osteria Mamma and Osteria La Buca are such newcomers as Korean fusion spot Baroo (5706 Santa Monica Blvd.), modern Middle Eastern eatery Farida (6266 Sunset Blvd.) and Kali (5722 Melrose Ave.), a California seasonal restaurant liked by Jeff Kleeman, head of Ellen DeGeneres' A Very Good Production shingle. "My lunch choices are 101-exit adjacent. I can get to and from Hollywood relatively quickly from Burbank," he says.
Just don't expect a second new wave of entertainment industry consolidation to happen in Hollywood imminently. In recent years, lawsuits have held up large construction, including the controversial Millennium Hollywood double towers next to Capitol Records, which would have clocked in at 35 and 39 floors. "Right now, there's nothing to rent, just little pieces here and partial floors there," says Muhlstein. But it's likely that development again will quicken with the defeat in March of Measure S — which would have imposed a two-year moratorium on commercial projects requiring a zoning amendment — and the release June 15 of a new draft community plan, favoring high-density development on Sunset and Hollywood. Says Hollywood Chamber of Commerce CEO Leron Gubler: "The plan, if adopted, will make it easier for new office projects to be approved and to keep the momentum up in drawing more entertainment firms to Hollywood." Projects in the works include the 1936 Crossroads of the World site on Sunset, which would add three towers to the 8-acre site, and the $300 million Academy complex that would remake the block (just south of the ArcLight) into 235,000 square feet of offices and 250 apartments. "There's more hustle and bustle. It's great to see the industry so alive," says Sarah Fischer, head of production at Shondaland, which shoots Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder at Sunset Gower Studios. "Not only that, but the history of Hollywood is something that never gets old to me. It's where the magic began."
This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.